Free-staters eye NH, WY
|Title:||Free-staters eye New Hampshire, Wyoming|
|Publication:||Casper Star Tribune|
Free-staters eye New Hampshire, Wyoming
by Kate McCann 09/06/03
CONCORD, N.H. -- About 20,000 liberty-minded people soon may be putting New Hampshire's "Live Free or Die" motto to a serious challenge.
Members of the Free State Project, inspired two years ago by a Yale graduate student, will announce their chosen state on Oct. 1, and New Hampshire could well be it. The group is also considering Wyoming and several other states.
If it's New Hampshire, 20,000 of them say they will move here within five years to work for smaller government, fewer laws and individual liberty.
Project members are college students and retirees and small business owners. Not all are Libertarians, though their principles are similar. They describe themselves as nonviolent, freedom-loving people. And they call their project the biggest experiment in democracy since the Revolutionary War.
Graduate student Jason Sorens came up with the idea in an essay written in July 2001. He posted it online, and was immediately flooded with e-mails from people ready to put it into action. With the Web site (www.freestateproject.org) as a forum, the movement began.
A year ago, members narrowed the choices to 10 states based on their small populations, libertarian tendencies, strong economies and other criteria.
New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont are on the list, as are South and North Dakota, Alaska, Delaware, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. But New Hampshire and Wyoming are generally seen as the leaders.
New Hampshire is tops for its lack of dependence on federal dollars, projected job growth, low crime rate and small government. It also gets high marks for its lack of a general sales or income tax, the relatively weak powers of its governor and, of course, the "Live Free or Die" motto coined by Revolutionary War hero John Stark.
There's also the New Hampshire Constitution, which both guarantees the right to revolt and does not prohibit secession. Project members say secession is not their goal, but the provision could be a useful bargaining chip.
Strikes against New Hampshire include its lack of support for Libertarian presidential candidates and its relatively expensive political campaigns.
The campaign to choose a state is being waged mainly on the Internet. But an "Escape to New Hampshire" picnic in June attracted more than 200 people from 22 states and Canada, including Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Nolan.
And James Maynard of Keene, one of 150 project members who already live in New Hampshire, has been recruiting in Massachusetts.
"With the attitude of everyone in Massachusetts, that freedom is just to their north, that would be a great source," said Maynard, 30.
Voting began last month as membership reached 5,000.
Results of the balloting, which ends Sept. 22, are a closely guarded secret. A contractor is doing the counting, and board members say even they have no idea what the early returns show.
Though the premise of the project is that 20,000 committed individuals could be a genuine force in a small state, members bristle at the suggestion they want to "take over" a state.
"New Hampshire gets 20,000 new residents annually. So 20,000 people is not like locusts," said Vice President Elizabeth McKinstry, who lives in Michigan. "And in no state that's on our list will 20,000 people be enough to come in to 'take over.'"
Even if it were, members say that is not what the project is about.
Henry McElroy, a freshman state representative from Nashua, says the biggest change would be getting people involved in government.
"You should be reading, you should be studying, you should be doing a better job of understanding your place in society," said McElroy, a Republican. "And that is not to be a couch potato that maybe votes every four years."
However, some members say they will work to eliminate laws against "victimless behaviors" such as marijuana use for medical purposes, prostitution and gambling.
That's partly why New Hampshire State Democratic Chairwoman Kathy Sullivan considers the project "sort of a very fringe group that can best be described as anarchists."
Sullivan was appalled when Republican Gov. Craig Benson told free-staters this summer, "Come on up, we'd love to have you."
"Is Craig Benson for legalized prostitution? He's for legalizing drugs? Is he for eliminating public schools?" she asked.
"He doesn't understand what these people stand for," she said.
Benson spokesman Chris Reid said it's Sullivan who doesn't understand.
He said Benson met with project representatives and welcomed them after being assured that in addition to favoring smaller government and less taxes, they were for the rule of law and against bigotry.
"Based on that, he told them they were welcome in New Hampshire," Reid said.
Sullivan doubts the free-staters would find a receptive audience in New Hampshire. But University of New Hampshire professor Mark Wrighton believes the state might indeed be fertile ground.
"The words 'Live Free or Die' pretty much explains a lot of what goes on in New Hampshire," Wrighton said.
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